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Catalin Mihuleac


Excerpt from

Novel, Cartea Romaneasca, 2012, 240 pages

Copyright: Cartea Romaneasca

Translation rights sold to: All rights available

Excerpt from

Comrade Ion Scutelnicu, a bigwig in the propaganda apparatus of the Romanian Communist Party, had the greatest respect for the lady comrades who deigned to embark upon amorous affairs with him. Marxist Leninist gentleman that he was, he brought them gifts of romantic bouquets of flowers, as well as more pragmatic products: a jar of instant coffee, two or three tins of Chinese ham, and sometimes a wee length of silk for a dress or a pair of fur lined boots that had been rejected for export, since there is no joking with the winters in our country. When he left their abodes, being a Marxist Leninist gentleman he would invariably forget to take with him the freshly opened packet of Kent cigarettes he had placed on the bedside table. When it came to smoking, he was like the unquenched furnace of a steelworks. He smoked as much as a chimney at the Hunedoara plant.

 

Comrade Ion Scutelnicu, the big cheese who stuck terror in you even if you so much as caught a glimpse of his socks, which were by far the greyest in Romania and the whole communist bloc, would not for the life of him ever have done the slightest harm to the lady comrades who deigned to embark upon amorous affairs with him. Quite the contrary: he used to help them, because he was also a big cheese in the other R.C.P., which nestled like a marsupial in the pouch of the one party state, and stood for “Relations. Connections. Perks.” When he could, and he always could, he would give the lady comrades a leg up in their professional careers, he would put a word in with the right person so that they could obtain a small flat from the state housing stock or an endorsement for a trip to the other friendly communist nations… A fine chap, very fine.
Nevertheless, in his early days as an activist, he had on occasion behaved abominably with one or another lady comrade, since fine manners do not turn up out of the blue, but rather they accrete to a man over the years.

Once, he had intersected with a young lady curvaceous in every respect, starting with her wavy chestnut red hair, which evoked the beauties of our nation’s fruit laden autumns. She had deigned to embark upon an amorous affair with him, inasmuch as she was obliged to commute, being an English teacher in a village school with no great prospects, and desired, through his benevolent intercession, a position closer to the asphalt of the city, since she was after all a city girl. She had her aspirations and her plans…
We may say that the plan of the young lady with the wonderful hair went equally wonderfully, but as they melted into each other’s arms on the sofa, without his first having laid his imposing grey socks on top of the mound of discarded garments, among whispers she completely inappropriately cried out:
“Love me, Johnny. Love me, Johnny! Oh, my God!”

 

In an instant, comrade Scutelnicu was on his feet, with an erection so impressive that you could have easily hung from it the red flag of the Party and still have had room for the tricolour. His gastric growl electrified his abundant body hair:
“Who is Johnny, comrade? Are you hiding some Johnny under the bed or in the wardrobe without my knowledge? And this ‘God’ you mention, who might he be? Is he some comrade in a position of responsibility? Uncultured as I am, I have never heard of him…”
And straightaway he gave her a slap with a palm that was like a bulldozer shovel, of the kind employed on the country’s construction sites, but which also might be used as a paddle for river freight.
Brutally interrupted from her reverie, the voice of the lady comrade ceased to susurrate and spluttered something to the effect that she had only been trying to be affectionate, given that the circumstances demanded it, and that “Johnny” was merely “Ion” in English, and what harm was there in expressing your feelings, if they were genuine and not mere figments. Her coppery face, beaded in sweat, was now laved with tears. She muffled her sobs, in order not to infuriate the overweeningly masculine comrade any further.
“There are countless appropriate modes of addressing a citizen of socialist Romania, if one intends to articulate laudable sentiments. Such modes manifestly exist. One does not employ diminutives reminiscent of the moral corruption of the capitalist world. What kind of monkey talk is this: ‘Teddy’ instead of Teodor, ‘Nicky’ instead of Nicolae, and, if you please, ‘Johnny’ instead of Ion. What is wrong with Tudorica, Nicu or Nelu? You display a thoroughly reprehensible attitude, comrade! Or have our wholesome Romanian names ceased to sound appropriate in your ears?”

 

Although his erection gave him to understand that it would have liked to linger in that poky flat, Ion Scutelnicu went straight to the sink, where he rinsed his face in an abundance of cold water. Then, he lit a Kent cigarette, left the opened packet on the bedside table and stormed out of the front door. He was hungry for fresh, outdoor air, for the bracing ozone of communism.
The girl was left behind to weep at leisure and to go on teaching English to the children from a dusty dead end village. She was devastated from every point of view. Only she knew how difficult it had been for her to obtain the key to that flat in that sinister tenement block, at no. 55, 1 May Street, so that she might make love to bigwig Scutelnicu in the most befitting manner, in the hope of fulfilling her small aspirations. She had begged a girl in her year from university for the key, and she had grudgingly agreed, but only in exchange for a fat healthy, a hen such as only a Romanian village can nurture in its bosom.

In the morning, when she had to pay her former colleague the night’s rent, she discovered that the hen had grown wings and emigrated from the refrigerator. Or else it too had dissolved in shame at the failure of the amorous escapade. Or else comrade Scultenicu, who was acquisitive by nature, had taken it with him.


Translated by Alistair Ian Blyth

 



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